In the Shadows: Abner Mares, Anselmo Moreno, and Nonito Donaire


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With Nonito Donaire out of the picture because of the monkeyshines played by fight game overlords—promoters and networks—Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno face off tomorrow night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, in a matchup of topnotch junior featherweights.

Fights between bantamweight and featherweight ought to be easier to make since there is less margin for profit in these divisions—and, therefore, less risk–but Donaire, it seems, has other plans. Somehow, “The Filipino Flash” tabbed Toshiaki Nishioka as the biggest challenge in the junior featherweight division. Only a selective memory—or poor powers of concentration—could force someone to omit Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno from a list of potential legitimate challengers. In addition, his goal to unify alphabet trinkets seems to stop, conveniently, at the ones he already possesses. Both Mares and Moreno are Alphabet Soup vending machine champions of one kind or another. On the other hand, Donaire will fight four times in 2012—almost unheard of for a headliner these days—and he has faced, for the most part, competent opposition. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., and Jeffrey Mathebula are both capable professionals, and Nishioka, despite his age and a career that stretches back to the Clinton Era, was considered one of the better junior featherweights.

But the P-4-P hysteria so common today has already made Donaire a multimillionaire. This, perhaps as much as his affiliation with Bob Arum, is what may separate him from a fight with the winner of Mares-Moreno. Already Jorge Arce is lined up to play canary in a coalmine against Donaire in December, and the winner of Mares-Moreno will likely fight a Golden Boy appointee next spring. If Donaire is going talk about cleaning out his class and being some sort of great, then he needs to acknowledge his competitors, give Top Rank a nudge, and draw fewer boos when he fights.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines or mixing it up with second-raters—where everyone, not just the second-raters, loses—Mares and Moreno will bypass all grandstanding and actually swap blows. Sans Donaire, this is the best pairing that can be made at 122 pounds, and Golden Boy actually deserves—gasp!—credit for making it.

Abner Mares, 24-0-1 (13), has the attitude of a real prizefighter, and there is a difference here between attitude and attitudinizing, which is what most headliners do in this era, when boxing economics are as mystifying as those of modern politics. With SuperPac funny money pouring in from premium cable networks looking to back certain cliques, Mares has had to work a lot harder than some of the one percent have in boxing. Not only is Mares ready to ply his trade whenever—and against whomever—but he is also a professional between the ropes. He has survived cuts, knockdowns, and scorecard deficits to win fights in the later rounds. Even repeatedly fouling Joseph Agbeko in 2011 showed a certain grim adherence to maintaining an edge. So long as referee Russell Mora was busy with his Know-Nothing impersonation, Mares was free to do as he pleased.

Although Mares, 26, has run a tough gauntlet over the last two years, he has been the clear winner in only one notable fight since 2010: a decision over Agbeko in their rematch last December. (Eric Morel, 36 at the time and a former flyweight, was something less than notable when Donaire outpointed him in a showcase mismatch in April.) Moreno will be looking to prevent Mares from squeaking out a narrow victory.

Smooth and precise as a pickpocket, Anselmo Moreno, 33-1-1 (12), is what every pro dreads deep inside: a cunning southpaw with fast hands and an elusive defense. Finesse is what Moreno brings into the ring, and finesse is what may shut down Mares from long range. If Moreno, 26, can control the fight from a distance, he will force Mares to open up in close. In that case, Moreno, San Miguelito, Panama, will get to ducking, deking, and dodging on the inside before coming back with odd countershots. Neither man has much power. Mares has not scored a KO since his last fight against a smear case at the Club Nokia, a.k.a. The Torture Chamber of Eric “Make-A-Gore” Gomez. (Who misses “Fight Night Club,” anyway? No doubt not even Oscar De La Hoya does. He is far too busy blocking Twitter users, revoking press passes, dissembling via every conceivable media method available, and setting Standard English back a hundred years.)

In order for Mares to win, he may have to outwork Moreno the same way he did against Vic Darchinyan in 2010. “Chemito” has a habit of doing just enough to get by and a slew of split-decisions over the last few years bears this out. Against Mares, who uses pressure as an equalizer when things get tough, Moreno cannot afford to be so selective. Especially since Mares, Montebello, California, has gotten the benefit of the doubt from judges and referees over the last two years.

In the end, this ought to be a hot argument for 12 rounds, one that Nonito Donaire will no doubt be watching until his professional ADD takes over and he reaches for the remote control.

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Tags: ABNER MARES Anselmo Moreno GOLDEN BOY PROMOTIONS Nonito Donaire Top Rank

  • Jimmy Tobin

    Hi CA, nice work.

    Mares does all the right things: impressive strength of schedule, fights maliciously, and I’m confident he’s more willing than the birdy-hop guy to make Mares-Donaire. Think about it: Broner has one less fight than Mares, but is just now facing a guy people like to beat him. And we don’t know anything about Broner. Mares has answered all the pertinent questions. So while Mares has had a strong push from Golden Boy (I think the ball-sicking performance against Agbeko was a screw job, and Moreno needs to win 15 rounds to get the nod tonight) he’s still had an uncharacteristically tough path for a modern darling. Whatever happens tonight, I imagine Mares will be back to in tough before we know it. That’s not something I expect from Donaire.

    Mares fans though, fuck, what an intolerable bandwagon of swooning teenage girls. I get that Mares is a good fighter, but I don’t see why people are batting eyelashes and breathing into paper bags every time the guy moves. What’s worse, he’s so precious to them that he is beyond reproach. I’ve heard people deny he was hitting Agbeko low on purpose! That’s lunacy! Fuck, if the guy can play “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on acoustic he might be able to hang the gloves up for good. Some of these fanboys I imagine as “Mares by day; Rios by night” if that makes any sense. (It’s early)

    Anyway, it should be a good fight, and kudos to everyone involved in making it happen. TSN2 is even televising it in Canada! I don’t have two spend to hours killing pop-ups on my computer.

    • thenonpareil

      Hi JT,

      yes, Mares is definitely not what you expect these days and he gets a lot of good will for it. Not only is he willing to step in against some tough fighters, but he also comes through as a professional. Other than the gonad goring of Agbeko, Mares also seems like a nice guy. I don’t think Donaire’s competition is bad, but if you’re going to make these statements, you ought to be willing to back them up. Now, the Top Rank-GBP feud is a real issue, but Doniare has nixed Top Rank opponents before and he has also–to his credit–publicly questioned some of his own competition. He can do so again.

      I didn’t know Mares fans were so Fruity Pebbles. But at least he has accomplished a few things, which is more than we can say about a lot of fighters today.

      Go, TSN2!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.jeffries.982 Ben Jeffries

    Moreno’s power has been steadily improving, so I wouldn’t rule out Mares being knocked on his butt a couple of times, especially if he gets aggressive. Should be a good one.

    • thenonpareil

      Hi Ben,

      I think you’re right. Moreno has that Chinese Water Torture power: he just keeps dropping punches on you until your resistance gives out. Mares does look fairly sturdy, though, so we’ll have to see if he can stand up to the downpour.

  • http://thelivingdaylights.co/ Andrew Fruman

    Hi CA,

    I just posted a comment, but it doesn’t appear to have gone through. Anyway, I shall try again…

    Nice preview, and I’m looking forward to tonight’s fight. It’s not everyday we get a match-up that looks evenly balanced, so we have to appreciate these nights when they come.

    I’m leaning towards Moreno, since I think he’s the better fighter, but Mares is at home, and that always carries more weight than it should on the scorecards. I have to wonder, as you alluded to, whether Moreno, taking a back-foot, counter-punching approach, can make enough of an impression on the judges?

    Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mares, with a dedicated body attack, made things more uncomfortable for Moreno than he’s used to. Even the shiftiest fighters, can be vulnerable when faced with an opponent that aggressively works downstairs.

    Anyway, should be good.

    • thenonpareil

      Hi AF,

      there are still bugs in this new system–definitely. I have only just discovered some comments after they were public for months. Now people will think I’m ignoring them! As if I didn’t have enough enemies!

      I agree with you on everything you say here. I do think Moreno is a better fighter, but can Mares find a way to offset the edge in talent via aggression and strong bodywork? I don’t know, but what’s certain is that it will be fun to watch. It looks like a lot of us are concerned with the judging, and Moreno’s habit of squeezing out split decisions may come into play tonight. Let’s hope not.

      But, like you, I’m happy to see a fight that looks like it’s 50-50 on paper. Everyone is at the right weight, no one is 44 years old, and nobody has been inactive for 2 years. It should be a good, solid boxing match. Thank goodness!

  • Michael Nelson

    Damn! Like Andrew, I lost my original comment. I’mma pretend like I said some groundbreaking shit, and this one is just lazy seconds.

    Great piece. Moreno’s grown on me – I wasn’t much a fan of the Cermeno fights, but the three wins since were all great performances. He’s a slick character who can be spectacular when he bunkers down and digs to the body. Given that Mares is a dedicated body puncher himself, this should be an entertaining scrap.

    Mares impressed in the Agbecko rematch, but I’d have to fabor Moreno here.

    • Michael Nelson

      *favor

    • thenonpareil

      Hi MN,

      damn, you too? I don’t know what’s up with the commenting system, but I had a feeling it was wacky when I didn’t get any Filipino trolls crying about my critique of Donaire. Very surprising.

      I like Mares, but I don’t think he’s any kind of great fighter. He’s a good, solid pro with a professional outlook. Is that enough to beat the pesky Moreno? As you say, Moreno is a slick fella in there, one who is always thinking. Maybe he’s a bit too calculating, and Mares will be able to take the play away from him from bell to bell. It will be interesting to see if he can do it.

      I’m with you–Moreno made me woozy a couple of years ago; now, he’s a little more proactive. With some of the managerial problems he’s had in the past, I suspect he can’t afford to lose a big fight like this one. He may work harder between the ropes for it. At least I hope so. I lean to Moreno as well.